Unpublished Letters of Franklin to Strahan

A correspondence between the Founding Father and a fellow bookseller reveals much about eighteenth century printing—and Benjamin Franklin's character.

The following letter, bearing date of October 19, is very interesting for the idea it gives of Franklin’s extensive business transactions and the growing intimacy of his own family with that of Mr. Strahan. This letter is written in a fine clear hand, and presents a good example of Franklin’s chirography.

Philada Oct. 19, 1748.

Dear Sir,—I receiv’d your Favour of April 25, with the maps. &c. I am glad the Polybius did not come, and hope you will not have sent it when this reaches your Hands; it was intended for my Son, who was then in the Army, and seemed bent on a military Life; but as Peace cuts off his Prospect of Advancemt in that Way, he will apply himself to other Business. Enclos’d I send you his Certificate from the Governor of New York, by which he is entitled to £98, 16, 4 sterling, being his Pay; with a Letter of Attorney impowering you to receive it; I know not what the Deductions will be at the Pay Office; but desire you will give my acc’t Credit for the net Proceeds. I am in daily Expectation of a Bill from Virginia of 50£ which I shall remit you towards the Balance, & Mr. Hall will acct with you for those Things you have sent me, that are put in his Invoice. Our Accts agree, except that I have charged you £1, 9, 7 for the Ainsworth to James Read, the 6/7 being the Proportion of Charges on that Book, and the Bill on Geo. Rigge my acct calls £15, 7, 11, yours 15, 7, 1; which is but a small Variation; & I know not but yours may be right. I have lately sent a Printing-house to Antigua, by a very sober, honest & diligent young Man, who has already (as I am informed by divers Hands) gained the Friendship of the principal People, and is like to get into good Business. This will open another Market for your Books if you think fit to use it; for I am persuaded, that if you shall send him a Parcel with any quantity of Stationary he may write to you for, he will make you good and punctual Returns. His Name is Thomas Smith; he is the only Printer on that island; had work’d with me here, and at my printing House in N York, 3 or 4 years, and always behaved extreamly well.

Mr. Thos Osborne, Bookseller of London, is endeavoring to open a Correspondence in the Plantations for the sale of his Books. He has accordingly sent several Parcels, 1 to Mr. Parker of N York, 1 to Mr. Read here, & one to Mr. Parks in Virginia. I have seen the Invoices to Parker & Read, and observe the Books to be very high charg’d, so that I believe they will not sell. I recommended Parker to you for Books, but he tells me he has wrote you several letters, & in two of them sent a Guinea to purchase some small things, but never receiv’d an Answer. Perhaps the Guinea made the Letters miscarry. He is a very honest, punctual Man, & will be in the Way of selling a great many Books; I think you might find your Acct in writing to him. Mr. Read having left off Bookselling Osborne has wrote to me, & desired me to take those Books into my Hands, proposing a Correspondence, &c., but I have declined it in a Letter p this ship.

My Spouse will write to Mrs. Strahan to whom my best Respects. By this time, twelve-month, if nothing extraordinary happens to prevent it, I hope to have the Pleasure of seeing you both in London; being with great Esteem and Affection, Dr Sir,

Your obliged Friend & Sert
B. Franklin.

 P. S. You will find Mr. Geo. Smith, one of the Witnesses to the Power of Attorney at the Pennsylvania Coffee House. He goes over in this Ship—

We now come to a Letter which is eminently characteristic. Amid his multifarious duties, the indefatigable Franklin finds the time to write a letter almost entirely of friendship, interchanging his views of life with his friend in London whom he had never seen. It is evident that Strahan had been expressing opinions with regard to life in Scotland entirely opposite to those of Dr. Johnson.

Philada June 2, 1750.

Dear Sir,—The person from whom you had the Power of Attorney to receive a Legacy, was born in Holland, and at first called Aletta Crell; but not being christen’d when the Family came to live among the English in America, she was baptized by the Name of Mary. This change of Name probably might be unknown to the Testator, as it happened in Carolina, and so the Legacy might be left by her first Name Aletta. She has write it on a Piece of Paper, which I enclose, and desires you would take the Trouble of acquainting the Gentleman with these Particulars, which she thinks may induce him to pay the Money.

I am glad to understand by the Papers that the Parliament has provided for paying off the Debts due on the Canada Expedition. I suppose my son’s Pay is now in your Hands. I am willing to allow 6 p ct. (the Rate of Interest here) for the Delay; or more, if the Disappointment has been a greater Loss to you—I hope the 50£ bill I lately sent you is come to Hand, & paid—

The Description you give of the Company and Manner of living in Scotland, would almost tempt me to remove thither. Your Sentiments of the general Foible of Mankind in the Pursuit of Wealth to no End, are expressed in a Manner that gave me great Pleasure in reading; They are extremely just; at least they are perfectly agreeable to mine. But London Citizens, they say, are ambitious of what they call dying worth a great Sum. The very Notion seems to me absurd; and just the same as if a Man should run in Debt for 1000 Superfluities, to the End that when he should be stript of all, and imprisoned by his Creditors, it might be said he broke worth a great Sum. I imagine that what we have above what we can use, is not properly ours, tho’ we possess it, and that the rich Man who must die was no more worth what he leaves than the Debtor who must pay.

 I am glad to hear so good a character of my Son in Law. Please to acquaint him that his Spouse grows finely, and will probably have an agreeable Person: that with the best natural Disposition in the World, she discovers daily the Seeds and Tokens of Industry, Oeconomy, & in short of every female Virtue, which her Parents will endeavour to cultivate for him; and if the Success answers their fond Wishes and Expectations, she will in the true Sense of the Word be worth a great deal of Money, and consequently a great Fortune.

I suppose my Wife writes to Mrs. Strahan. Our Friend Mr. Hall is well, and manages perfectly to my Satisfaction. I cannot tell how to accept your Repeated Thanks for Services you think I have done to him, when I continually feel myself obliged to him, and to you for sending him. I sincerely wish all Happiness to you and yours, and am Dear Sir

Your most obliged humb Serv’t
B Franklin

In the next letter we have an allusion to the thrifty habits of Franklin’s daughter, who subsequently married Mr. Bache. We shall hear more of her business transactions in another letter from her father.

Philada Sept. 22, 1751

Dr Sir,—My Daughter receiv’d her Books all in good Order, and thanks you for your kind Care in sending them. Enclos’d is a second Bill for 20£ sterlg, the first went p Mesnard.

There is a little Book on the Game of Chess, by Philip Stamona, printed for J. Brindley, 1745. If to be had, please to send it to me; with the remaining Vols. of Viner as fast as they are published.

We are all well, and join in affectionate Regards to you, Mrs. Strahan and your Chil

Your most obliged humb Serv’t
B Franklin

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